Avalon, adapted and directed by Glory Sims Bowen and based on Arthurian mythology, is a rare thing in theatre today: a historical fantasy with a cast of 20, spectacle, dance, and even dry ice. It is generally compelling, if also quaint and uneven. The accents run from Masterpiece Theatre to stage Irish, the bright costumes evoke Ren Faire more than Druidic Britain, and the evocative sound design by Christopher Brooks occasionally stumbles into overfamiliar territory (New Age singer Loreena McKennitt, an air by 18th-century harper Turlough O'Carolan).
Bowen's originality adds luster to well-known characters. Top scenes include a steamy encounter between Arthur's mother, Igraine (Ali Baynes), and Uther Pendragon (Randy Howk), and an adolescent rebellion by Lancelet (Matthieu Cornillon) against his high-priestess mother, Viviane (Randi Sobol). Like The Mists of Avalon author Marion Zimmer Bradley, Bowen focuses her story on the shift from the goddess-based religion of the mystic isle of Avalon to male-driven Christianity. She brings little new to this idea, although scenes depicting naughty Beltane fertility rights are well staged (there is partial nudity). Morgaine, Arthur's sister and high priestess of Avalon, is seen at three different stages of her life -- Sarah Jebian ably plays her as a crone who serves as the evening's narrator, Maggie Surovell depicts her as a child, and Jordana Oberman is the woman -- theatricalizing the maiden/mother/crone threesome of Celtic mythology. Also like Bradley, Bowen dramatizes a striking ménage à trois among Arthur; his queen, Gwenhwyfar; and his best friend, Lancelet.
There is enough material here for a miniseries. The Holy Grail myth doesn't begin until 10 p.m. in a show that starts at 7:30. Despite engaging dances by Hana Mori Taylor and fights by Ryan Bartruff, the air leaks out of the long performance. The ending is weakly expository, as though Bowen's invention flagged. Still, Avalon is magical enough to justify the journey to Camelot.
Presented by FHB Theater Productions
at the Looking Glass Theatre, 422 West 57th St., NYC.
Feb. 2-25. Fri. and Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.
(212) 352-2101 or www.theatermania.com.